How can I understand and write a summary on the prologue by Vincent Harding from the book Eyes on the Prize Civil Rights Reader?

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jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The main idea of Vincent Harding's prologue for Eyes on the Prize Civil Rights Reader is that a new era was beginning in the Civil Rights Movement. He begins his essay "Awakenings" by referring to the murder of Emmett Till, a "Chicago-based teenager" (page 35) in Mississippi, and he says that while in the past, such injustices were met with the response "another man done gone" (page 35), this time, things were different. In other words, the African-American community was going to take a new approach towards gaining equality and dealing with injustice. 

Harding claims that although the struggle for civil rights for African-Americans had been going on for a very long time, "it seemed clear that 1955 was different" (page 36). Part of what made this year different was the 1954 Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education, which declared that separate but equal schools (meaning whites and African-Americans had segregated schools) were inherently unequal. In addition, he points to the bus boycott led by Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks at the end of 1955 (and into 1956) in Montgomery, Alabama. Of this boycott, Harding says, "if anyone had any doubts that 1955 was a new time, they needed only to pay close attention to what was developing in Montgomery, Alabama" (page 37). Dr. King was leading African-Americans in that city on a peaceful boycott of buses to protest their treatment. Harding writes that while African-Americans had long been denied their rights, "a unique, mass-based new beginning" was happening in the mid-1950s, and the documents and issues in this book relate to that new beginning for the Civil Rights movement. 


mrstodd | Student

Developing any successful summary revolves around the following steps:

1) Determine a text's main idea (thesis): Whether you are summarizing a paragraph or summarizing an entire essay, a summary revolves around the main idea or main point of a text. In the case of the 34-page prologue of Eyes on the Prize Civil Rights Reader by Vincent Harding, you are summarizing a lengthy essay. Even though the prologue touches on a wide variety of facts and details, they all serve to make one main point. What is that point? Once you know the answer to that, you know the essay's thesis.

*If you're not sure of the text's thesis, review key text features like the title of the essay (in this case, "We The People: The Long Journey Toward a More Perfect Union"), the introduction paragraph, the conclusion paragraph, and any additional information provided. In this text, Harding quotes the preamble of the Constitution, the title alludes to that same document, and the essay is within a book about Civil Rights. Use these text features to help you gain an idea of what the prologue's thesis (or main idea) is. 

2) Use topic sentences for clues: In a lengthy work such as the one you're reviewing, topic sentences are very helpful for determining the key ideas to include in your summary. Many paragraphs will include a topic sentence (usually the first or second sentence of a paragraph). In the text you're summarizing, one of the paragraphs begins with this sentence: "To probe that deeply would bring us to a history of antiblack repression that had possessed the entire South (and too many northern outposts) by the end of the 1870s" (page 4). If you review the remainder of that paragraph, you'll find that it revolves around specific examples of what the author calls "antiblack repression" in the late 19th century and the impact such repression had on society. Thus, that paragraph serves as a good example for how a topic sentence can reveal a paragraph's main point or key idea(s). If you go through a text and identify all of the topic sentences along with a small number of associated facts, you'll have a fair portion of your summary figured out.

*It should be noted that not all paragraphs have clear topic sentences; a paragraph may lack a topic sentence if it relates to a previous paragraph's topic or if the author chose to leave one out. 

3) Leave out extra details: Where appropriate, remove any details that are redundant. For instance, in the paragraph from your text that I mentioned earlier, there are many specific examples of antiblack repression in the late 19th century. Instead of listing all of these elements, select a few and allude to the fact that there are others. Where there are lists, do the same: select some key details and share only those instead of repeating an entire list. Remove any "extra" wording that might be nice in the original text but isn't absolutely necessary for getting the main point(s) across. 

4) Use your own words: A summary should include as little directly quoted material from the original as possible. Paraphrase where you can, and only use direct quotations when the quote is especially significant or restating the idea in other words would create confusion rather than facilitate understanding. 

5) Cobble it together & polish: Once you've figured out the overall text's thesis, you've figured out the key ideas, important details, and necessary facts to support the thesis, you've paraphrased and shortened the text as much as possible, and you've made sure that all the details you included directly connect to the thesis you've identified, it's time to polish. Your summary should be a readable text on its own; it should make sense, it should flow in a logical order, and it should feel complete when you conclude. 

If you follow these steps, you'll have a strong summary of any text, especially informational or expository texts like the one you're trying to summarize.

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Eyes on the Prize

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